As introduced, Virginia’s SB 615 was the kind of legislation that spells trouble for the nationwide effort to limit carbon pollution from existing coal-fired power plants: it would have preemptively kept Virginia from complying with the new limits that EPA will set this summer.
Thanks to the outpouring of opposition to SB 615, now we’re back on track to protect the EPA’s authority to regulate Virginia’s carbon pollution. Here’s how the story unfolded over the last few days.
The original version of SB 615, sponsored by state Senator Charles Carrico, would have dealt a staggering blow to the EPA’s ability to regulate carbon pollution in Virginia. But that plan changed course dramatically in committee on Thursday after citizens reacted swiftly to the news that passing SB 615 would amount to an abrupt about-face on addressing carbon.
With calls and emails to legislators, face-to-face constituent meetings, and a 60-person march on Capitol Square last Monday, Virginians demanded that our leaders stand up for our future and reject any step that moves us away from climate solutions. When the committee meeting convened on Thursday, citizens packed the room wearing anti-SB 615 stickers to watch the debate and hold senators accountable for their votes, and much to the pleasure of those attending, SB 615 was first on the docket, but in a new, drastically amended form.
The overhauled language was a tremendous improvement: the bill would only mean that the Virginia Department of Mines, Minerals and Energy is required to study the costs and benefits of Virginia complying with the new EPA regulations, and only a few lines remained limiting Virginia’s efforts to address carbon, reflecting that the General Assembly intended to refrain from passing any limits on carbon emissions more stringent than the EPA regulations.
Representatives from manufacturing, utilities, and the coal industry spoke in favor of that version of the bill, and representatives on the anti-SB 615 side answered with appreciation for the idea of a balanced study while plainly voicing opposition to the one vestige of anti-EPA language contained in the new version. It is needless and premature, it was argued, to say that Virginia does not intend to act to reduce its emissions more than EPA requires when those limits have not yet been announced. In response to this point, a member of the committee moved that those lines be stuck, the change was accepted, and the bill passed unanimously in that amended, innocuous form.
We deserve be proud that legislators heard our call and did the right thing. It goes to show that getting mad, getting organized, and getting visible can work to get the outcomes we want from the General Assembly that represents our interests and responds to our concerns, including carbon pollution.